From the outset, there was a strong familial connection between the sound of the Sonja 2.2 and its much bigger sibling, the Sonja XV. Let’s take a moment to explore in some depth just what that comment means.
First, much like the XV, the 2.2 conveys both an immediate and lasting impression of offering superabundant sonic transparency. The speaker makes joyful child’s play of rendering small, elusive, low-level sonic details with effortless clarity and definition. Unlike many other speakers that claim to be good at detail retrieval, however, the Sonja 2.2 manages to be highly informative while also remaining uncannily smooth sounding and unflustered, whether playing loudly, softly, or anywhere in between (where competing speakers often achieve perceived detail at the expense of a subtly bright, brittle, and edgy sound). The upshot of this is that the 2.2 is a wonderfully natural sounding loudspeaker; there is absolutely nothing strained or forced about it presentation.
To hear this quality of transparency-plus-smoothness in action, listen to the opening ‘Into: Part 1 – Afternoon’ movement of Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat [Ansermet/ L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, London FFRR/ORG LP], and note how clearly and precisely the Sonja 2.2 renders the textures, tonal colours, and stage positions of each orchestra section, while also neatly defining the acoustics (and reverberant characteristics) of the recording space. The result is a satisfying quality of unforced realism.
Second, the 2.2 is a decidedly full-range and full-throated loudspeaker that is capable of terrific extension at both high and low frequency extremes, while also delivering premier league dynamics—subject only to the constraint that the 2.2 works best in medium-to-medium large listening spaces (whereas the larger Sonja 2.3, Sonja XV Jr., and Sonja XV models offer progressively greater dynamic clout and lower distortion when used in large-to-very-large listening rooms). But heard in its proper context, which includes rooms that would be regarded as relatively large lounge spaces in typical European or British homes, the Sonja 2.2 lacks for nothing. Bass depth and definition? Check. Explosive dynamics on demand? Check. Subtlety and nuance to die for? Check.
As a check on bass depth and definition, put on the third ‘Landscape. Lento’ movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 7 “Sinfonia Antartica” (Bakels/Bournemouth, Naxos, 16/44.1) and listen to the masterful way that the Sonja 2.2 handles the deep, shuddering, descending pipe organ pedal notes used to suggest the otherworldly quality of the arctic landscape. It’s a true low-frequency tour de force.
Similarly, to verify the speaker’s macrodynamic power and vigour, listen to the third ‘Volcano – Adagio – Allegro – Adagio’ movement of Alan Hovanhess’ Symphony No. 50 “Mount St. Helens”. The movement begins quietly enough, but then suddenly explodes into a series of brute force orchestral dynamic passages meant to depict the violent eruption (and explosive self-destruction) of Mount St. Helens and when it did so the 2.2 rendered those passages with such fierce and fast-rising bursts of dynamic energy that a listening companion seated next to me literally bolted from his seat (perhaps suspecting something had just gone drastically wrong with the system’s volume control, which wasn’t the case at all). Such is the instantaneous power the Sonja 2.2 can bring to bear when the need arises.
But the true strong suit of the Sonja 2.2 involves its almost breath-taking ability to render both songs and soundstages with equal parts precision, three-dimensionality, subtlety, and nuance that just won’t quit. A brilliant example of this came in the form of the speakers’ superb rendition of an old favourite: namely, the sumptuous track ‘Nublado’ from Será Una Noche’s eponymous album (MA Recordings 45 RPM LP). ‘Nublado’ is a slowly unfolding, profoundly engrossing, and almost hypnotically rhythmic variation on a Tango known as a Candombe. The song is carried by an ensemble consisting of Marcelo Moguilevesky on clarinets and flutes, Gabriel Kirschenbaum on guitars, Gabriel Rivano on bandoneon, Martin Iannaccone on cello, and leader Santiago Vazquez on percussion. The recording was captured by MA Recordings producer Todd Garfinkle from the interior of a small church located, says MA, “about 150 miles from Buenos Aires”.
What floored me about the sound of the Sonja 2.2’s on ‘Nublado’ was their ability to reproduce the seductive richness of tonal colours and the delicate textures of the instruments in play, the almost tractor-beam-like pull of the Candombe rhythm, while at the same time convincingly conveying the sound and ‘feel’ of a small church interior. In my experience, to hear this track on the 2.2’s is to be utterly drawn in, and that is due in no small part to a quality they deliver better than almost any speaker I have yet heard: namely, intimacy. While the Sonja 2.2 cannot deliver the giant ‘wall-of-sound’ presentation that the Sonja XV provides in very large rooms, one thing the 2.2 may do even better than the flagship model is to convey an up close and personal quality of musical intimacy—that is, a sense that one has been brought face-to-face with the very essence of the music.